|Distortion is demonstrated by former Red Sox manager|
Terry Francona. The quality of inside/outside pitch location
is not truly apparent from the team dugout, yet Francona is
adamant a called strike was significantly outside.
Serena Williams allegedly threatened to maim or even kill a lineswoman by shoving a ball down her throat after the official correctly called Williams for a foot fault. Williams also blamed a chair umpire when she correctly enforced a rule Williams had violated.
Fast forward to Monday and Papelbon's defeat at the hands of the LA Dodgers and a Dee Gordon triple, the scapegoating was back: "I thought [home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn] was terrible."
The psychology of blaming umpires, referees and others references classic Freudian defense mechanisms, unconscious strategies employed to cope with reality and to maintain self-image. The following are a few instances of the psychology involved in poor sportsmanship, the defense mechanisms behind this behavior:
Splitting: A primitive & pathological defense, "I thought [Reyburn] was terrible" and other statements that bash officials as a group is a perfect example of splitting negative and positive impulses.
Projection: An immature defense and a primitive form of paranoia, blaming others for self-failure and shifting responsibility or guilt because one cannot cope with admitting personal faults are classic symptoms. Coaches (Pitino) often employ this mechanism to shift blame from themselves, especially when their job is at risk due to poor performance.
Rationalization: The neurotic tendency to justify questionable or puerile behavior by making excuses defines this defense mechanism. In blaming Reyburn and crew chief Derryl Cousins for not letting him ask "a question," Papelbon shifts the blame to others, exemplifying victim mentality while justifying (to himself) childish behavior.
Denial / Distortion: Two birds with one stone, denial and distortion are both pathological defense mechanisms: Denial is a refusal to accept reality while distortion is a gross reshaping of external reality. Papelbon claimed Reyburn was awful during his outing, yet Reyburn only saw three callable pitches—of Papelbon's 17 pitches, the Dodgers swung at 14 of them. Reyburn was clearly correct in his ball calls on two of three pitches, while the third ball call was borderline (px of 0.809)—the UEFL would have bestowed a QOC of "correct" for this pitch because of that fact.
Acting Out: Categorized as an immature mechanism for a reason, acting out often manifests itself in throwing tantums or simply complaining about officiating after the fact: Yorvit Torrealba is a textbook example of a serial user of this defense mechanism that shares several attibutes with regression.
Passive Aggression: Another immature mechanism, Tim Duncan's recent claim that the Thunder "got every whistle possible"—other than being a clear distortion—is Duncan's passive aggressive way of accusing the officials of being one-sided. Short of directly calling them out, Duncan's passive aggressive quotes are just as effective, yet they come off every bit as whiny.
Altruism and Sublimation: Not every defense mechanism is negative—a select few mechanisms are categorized as "mature" and are commonly found in emotionally healthy adults. Among them are altruism and sublimation, though we often don't encounter athletes who exhibit either of these when it comes to an official's bad call. Enter Armando Galarraga & Jim Joyce: Galarraga couldn't have been a better sportsman in the wake of Joyce's admitted miss of a key 9th inning call, a "safe" that broke up a perfect game. From handing out an award on the ESPYs to penning a book, this duo demonstrated the positive side of defense mechanisms.
Nonetheless, while Galarraga-Joyce is nice to see, Papelbon/Torrealba remains the norm. Is it that athletes are immature, that emotions excuse decorum or that the pressure of millions of dollars is just too much to cope with? Then again, try explaining that millions-of-dollars argument to a parent on a Little League field.